Pet care brand opens dog food banks for hard-up owners 

Canada's Wilder Harrier framed its sampling campaign as a support measure during a cost-of-living crisis

In June 2023, Canadian dog food brand, Wilder Harrier, set up dedicated pet food banks to help pet owners with the rising cost of living.

Community Pet Pantries are the equivalent of community fridges/food banks, except that they provide food for pets. Wilder Harrier pledged to fill the pantries for two months and accepts donations of unexpired food or treats for all kinds of pets, provided they are in a sealed and labelled container. Donations of pet waste bags, lightly used toys, leashes and other necessities are also welcome.

The pantries were first set up in Toronto, with five pantries in Toronto and one in Vancouver. In Toronto, they are located in a dog-friendly brewery, a general store, a coffee shop, and in three residential locations.

Customers in each location are also encouraged to bring their dogs to enjoy Wilder Harrier ‘treats of the week’. Since a lot of dogs have allergies or food sensitivities, Wilder Harrier also offers a discounted community pantry bundle of its products, which people can buy to fill up their local pantry.

The initiative was created with Berners Bowie Lee, Toronto. The pet pantries were designed by muralist Elise Conlin. The Community Pet Pantries campaign is being promoted through social media, grassroots partnerships and guerrilla advertising strategically placed in places where dogs tend to stop and investigate, such as fire hydrants.

Results / According to the agency, in just one week, the campaign had 1.76 million views based on estimated reach and engagement on social. In its first week, the Community Pet Pantries supplied 1,872 meals.

Contagious Insight 

Hide it in plain sight / By filling up the community pet pantries with Wilder Harrier products, the dog food brand encourages pet owners to sample its products and increases the chance of future purchases. The Montreal pet food brand launched its first product in 2016 and is known for making alternative protein pet food that’s easy on dogs’ stomachs and has a low environmental footprint. Its products include farmed insects, sustainable fish and Cricket Training Bites.

A 2023 Global Pets survey found that 43% of pet owners are unlikely to purchase pet food that contains innovative ingredients like insects. As an unconventional and relatively new dog food brand on the market, Wilder Harrier must find a way to stand out and whet dog owners’ appetites enough to purchase. Here, Wilder Harrier neatly packages a sampling campaign within a gesture of generosity – a neat double play.

Low-budget banger / Community Pet Pantries is a simple and PR-able way for Wilder Harrier to build positive associations and show people that it has their backs during tough times. Caitlin Benn, director of brand marketing at Wilder Harrier, said in a statement, ‘As a company, we don’t shy away from telling the truth about pet ownership – the good, the bad, and the gross. But we’re also about providing solutions for pet parents.’ Many people are feeling the pinch of the rising cost of living, including big brands as they continue to jack up their prices. In February 2023, the New York Times reported that in the fourth quarter of the previous year, PepsiCo raised its prices by 16% and Unilever did so by more than 13%.

Rather than add to people’s financial anxieties, this campaign is proactive in alleviating dog owners’ stresses around feeding and taking care of their pets. In our Cost of Living Trend, we talk about how ‘Helping hard-pressed customers is a sure-fire way to boost positive sentiment and focusing on what you can do for customers now will put you in good stead when conditions eventually improve later.’ We’ve seen this executed by brands like UK supermarket Morrisons, which partnered with beans brand Heinz to offer customers a free jacket potato with baked beans during the half-term school holiday. Also in the UK, the supermarket chain Iceland offered small interest-free loans to help those reliant on food banks. Here, Wilder Harrier shows pet owners that they can rely on them during tough times, building a positive sentiment for the future.

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